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Made in the USA: Benefits & Challenges

In honor of America's 236th birthday, we asked manufacturers who assemble products in the US to explain the benefits and challenges of domestically making products.


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ABC News recently ran a series of special reports called "Made in America." In one segment, they removed everything that was foreign-made inside one specific home Everything from furniture to lighting fixtures to appliances was taken out and loaded on a truck. The home was virtually empty, except for a set of old dishes.

Next, they tried to replace everything with comparable U.S.-made products, and they were successful, except for one glaring category: electronics.

But maybe ABC News didn't look hard enough. There are plenty of manufacturers serving the custom electronics industry that assemble and source their products from the good old USA.

Manufacturers like Salamander Designs and ZeeVee make their products in the U.S., with many of the components locally sourced.

"The key advantage to making our products in the U.S. is that we can do it faster ... it certainly is not less expensive," notes Sal Carrabba of Salamander, who says he can turn about custom-spec'ed cabinets in three to four days and seating in 15 days.

In honor of our nation's 236th birthday, we asked manufacturers who assemble products in the US to explain the benefits and challenges of domestically making products. Of course, this is only a sample of the companies who domestically assemble products, so feel free to give a special shout out in the comments to vendors that source and assemble products in America.


Ted Bott, executive VP of sales, Leon Speakers

What advantages does manufacturing in the U.S provide?
As a domestic company located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we are committed to having our fabrication / manufacturing done locally, and in fact, we do most all of it in-house.

One advantage of doing so is that it allows us flexibility in "mass customization". As most of our products are custom, and made-to-order, we can track, control and prioritize our manufacturing efforts to align with our customers needs. With regards to the components that we do not fabricate in-house, we love having it done not only in the U.S., but as close as possible to our facilities.

As JIT logistics have evolved, the whole issue of work in progress and inventory carrying costs has been increasingly under the microscope. Although the instantaneous communication via internet can facilitate the sourcing of work outside the U.S., for us it still comes down to "distance, time and relationships matter".

Is it more expensive to manufacture domestically? Why?
The labor costs of doing so much in-house fabrication and assembly are indeed higher than they might be if we outsourced them to offshore labor markets. However, if we chose to do that, we would lose a big part of what makes us "Leon” - very short lead times from design to production to shipping of custom products. Additionally, we believe that there is a resurgent pride in stating publicly that a company’s products are made locally - in fact, we think Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” was spot-on, and hit the same nerve we are aiming for. No more excuses, we are doing fine in the U.S.A. thank you very much.

imageBott
Does your company have any difficulty finding skilled workers? What are some tips on finding great employees?
Being located in the Ann Arbor/greater Detroit area, we have no problem finding highly skilled workers. The larger issue for us is finding the right skilled workers. Our products (high-end audio speaker systems) are, indeed, made with relatively basic fabrication, manufacturing and assembly methods. What we look for in our team members, however, beyond their manual skill set is an appreciation and passion for the end product. Most, if not all of our people are musicians, luthiers, and trained in the creative arts.

What that does is allow us to be sure that a certain understanding, appreciation and pride in the finished product takes place. We have found great employees by looking beyond the resume, delving into the personal interests that they share with us, and looking for the people that get all worked up (emotional) about playing music, building instruments, graffiti, appreciation of fine furniture details, etc. - then we meld that with their technical abilities. It is all part of seeing if they are "Leon." Every company has a culture that they hope to reinforce with each new employee, and we are no different, we are just being Leon.

What has been the greatest challenge of maintaining your “made in the USA” status?
There is always the aforementioned cost pressure that is so tempting to relieve by succumbing to offshore sourcing - it is a battle we talk about every day. But really, we are competing on something other than price. Our biggest challenge is seeing some competitors in the marketplace that emulate our products, and not spending our emotional capital by worrying about it, saving that for the creation, design and development of new, innovative products instead.

Do you find businesses are more likely to work with you and have a more positive perception because you manufacture in the U.S.?
In general, there is a tendency for U.S. based businesses to give a good “second look” at suppliers that manufacture in the U.S. In some markets - particularly education, government and military – it is also a bit of “home field advantage”.

An additional consideration is the inclination of U.S. companies to “give back” to the American economy. This has been a bit stronger since the recent economic decline, as they see the value of maintaining manufacturing capabilities on American soil.

Do you find that businesses feel more confident when they learn that the products being installed in their facilities are made in the U.S.?
Yes. The wide range of American manufacturing prowess, craftsmanship and experience is well known and documented, while some third-world production sites and practices are not as mature, nor as easily confirmed. There is also better enforcement in the U.S. for patent protection, so that products that are made in the U.S. are less likely to be “knock-offs”.

How does having production facilities in the U.S. help attract commercial integrators?
There are different points in the decision-making process that allows “Made in the U.S.A.” to have a positive connotation and attract commercial integrators.

One is the logistics of being able to ship within the borders of the U.S., without the delays of customs and international shipping procedures. Another is the fact that a U.S based manufacturing company is within a short drive or air flight, so visits to tour facilities, progress meetings, and the general development of relationships are easier and take less time and budget. Once the product is delivered, any last-minute changes are handled much easier and faster.


Ingo Schmoldt, VP of sales and marketing, Fusion Research


What advantages does manufacturing in the U.S provide?
There is great pride in creating our servers here in the US. It also allows us to easily visit or work more closely with our suppliers and that increases quality control. One of the best advantages of building product in the US is that we don’t have to commit to a large amount of raw goods at any one time. This allows us to run a more lean ‘just in time’ inventory model than if we had our products shipped in from abroad. Controlling your manufacturing here also enables us to have a much quicker product development process.

Is it more expensive to manufacture domestically? Why?
Quite simply, yes. Everything from our chassis to our shipping boxes are more expensive purchased here locally.

imageSchmoldt
Does your company have any difficulty finding skilled workers?
With the plethora of computer based jobs and training out there, it’s quite easy to find people who have the basic aptitude for the job. The rest is up to our training.

What has been the greatest challenge of maintaining your “made in the USA” status?
None so far, our business and supply has been able to ramp up as interest increases.

Do you find businesses are more likely to work with you and have a more positive perception because you manufacture in the U.S.? Why?
I feel it’s a ‘nice to have’. They definitely have a more positive perception, however if you’re product must be competitive or it won’t make a difference.

Do you find that businesses feel more confident when they learn that the products being installed in their facilities are made in the U.S.?
Yes, I believe as a whole that clients feel there is better quality control when we mention that we build our servers at our headquarters here in the US.

How does having production facilities in the U.S. help attract commercial integrators?
Again I believe it helps to have flexibility in our business practices, run a leaner, more profitable business. I think all of these things are desirable attributes for a company’s business partner to have.


Trent Mulligan, sales and marketing manager, AVocation Systems


What advantages does manufacturing in the U.S provide?
The biggest advantage is it allows you to manage the manufacturing and quality control process. Local manufacturing also allows for rapid changes in products when required. Since we control the assembly process very closely, we can change designs in both hardware and software very quickly to meet customer demands. It’s also crucial that we make products that are durable and reliable, and a stringent QC process is the best way to achieve this.





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9 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by paulcunningham  on  07/03  at  10:29 AM

AudioControl should have been on the short list of American companies relevant to our market.

And Crestron (surprisingly given their size) still makes almost everything at home.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  07/03  at  11:21 AM

There are plenty of other mfrs in our industry that make most of their stuff here; we couldn’t include them all, but would love to hear from them via the comments!

Posted by Bill Paul  on  07/03  at  12:15 PM
Posted by Joe Whitaker  on  07/04  at  07:26 AM

I <3 Trent Mulligan! I have dealt with Trent for years and have used their products all over the U.S. Having thier products made in the U.S. has made it easier to get products in a hurry, and when support is needed you know you can reach any level all the way to engineers and product builders themselves. I have always felt companies like Avocations, Leon, and Fusion are driving forces in our industry and our economy. Thanks guys for being companies made in the U.S.

Posted by Dion Longworth  on  07/04  at  09:10 AM

My company, Indy Audio Labs, is manufacturing all of our current and in development Aragon and Acurus high performance home stereo and home theater products in the USA, with as many US sourced components as possible.  We see an increase in quality, speed, and a tendency of US suppliers to get it right the first time and much faster fixes when they don’t.

Posted by Ron Callis  on  07/04  at  09:33 AM

@paulcunningham

I agree, Crestron definately should have mentioned. They are a $600M+ company that manufacturers almost everything here in the USA. They recently gained national attention for this on CBS news:

http://blog.crestron.com/system-control-blog/2012/5/7/crestron-on-cbs-evening-news.html

Posted by Ronaldo franchini  on  07/04  at  12:34 PM

Earthquake Sound Corporation manufactures most of its electronic products at Hayward, California. They are genuine USA made.

Posted by paulcunningham  on  07/04  at  10:17 PM

@Ron last time I talked to someone at Crestron about it, the only thing offshored was old and simple bog-standard high-volume stuff that’s been around for years like the PAD8. Although we currently have 100% of our MLX-3s (total quantity 3 or 4 so far in vastly different serial number ranges - just really testing them out now) RMA’d for defective buttons so I don’t think that China would be any worse if this is a legit trend.

Posted by Paul Terrell  on  07/05  at  05:16 AM

iDocx manufactures there iPad/iPod docking stations and electronics entirely in the U.S.A. 
http://www.idocxonline.com

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